Perhaps the Sixers have been underestimated a bit.
Outside of Joel Embiid’s health, all of the chatter going into the playoffs was about how the relatively inexperienced roster would handle the big stage.
Sure, the team has a crop of veterans that have been there and done that. However, young impact players such as Embiid, Ben Simmons and Dario Saric were all getting their first taste of the postseason.
So how are they feeling about it to this point?
“I love it,” Embiid said at Friday’s practice. “I live for these moments. I thrive in this type of atmosphere. I think I was built for this, especially playoff basketball.”
Embiid appears particularly fond of the postseason in environments where the Sixers are short on support.
After missing the first two games of the series in Philadelphia while still recovering from orbital fracture surgery, Embiid stepped back into the starting lineup on the road in Miami.
Was getting barked at by rowdy fans in hostile territory going to be a problem? Not for the villain now known as “The Phantom of the Process.”
“I actually think I play better on the road because I just love the atmosphere,” Embiid said. “I just love looking around the arena, people booing, people going against us. That just takes my game to another level.”
The Sixers’ performance isn’t the only thing that has been taken up a notch. Their intensity level and physicality have jumped in this first-round matchup with the bruising Heat.
“I said it before, I wish it was like this all season,” said Simmons, who is averaging 20.0 points, 10.0 rebounds and 9.7 assists per game in the series. “I’m enjoying it. It’s very competitive and that’s the type of basketball I want to play.”
“It’s basketball. It’s fun,” Justin Anderson said. “Playing like that is fun. Every possession matters. You can tell there’s not a lot of empty possessions. Guys are getting shots up on every possession.
“… It’s intensified. It’s just basketball. It’s the best basketball in the world, and we’re putting ourselves in a position to hopefully go and get another one in Game 4.”